Italy denounces ‘hypocritical lessons’ on migrants from France

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The 629 migrants, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, have been drifting in the central Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius rescue ship since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta shut their ports to it.

The 629 migrants who were rescued on Saturday night off the coast of Libya and denied entry into Italy and Malta will be taken to Spain's eastern port of Valencia, said an official with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) at around 6am on Tuesday.

Migrants on a rubber boat are rescued by the SOS Mediterranee organisation during a search and rescue operation with the MV Aquarius rescue ship (background) in the Mediterranean Sea, September 14, 2017.

In a move reminiscent of Australia's contentious asylum seeker policy, Italy's newly sworn-in, popularist government says it will refuse to allow a ship carrying more than 600 migrants to dock at its ports.

Problems for the vessel began when Italy's Matteo Salvini, recently appointed as interior minister as part of a new right-wing government, closed the country's ports to the boat, after promising voters he would crack down on immigration.

Authorities on the French island of Corsica had also offered to host the rescue ship. "Malta will be sending fresh supplies to the vessel".

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"MSF calls for people's safety to come before politics".

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday accused Italy of "cynicism and irresponsibility" over its refusal to take in hundreds of migrants stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, a government spokesman said.

Italy claimed that Malta should accept the Aquarius because Malta was the safest, closest port to the ship.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini, in a joint statement with Danilo Toninelli, minister in charge of the Italian coastguard, insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life".

A statement sent Monday by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's office says "it is our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people".

Rescue workers onboard the MV Aquarius said it will take four days to reach the port of Valencia and that the boat should be allowed access to the nearest port immediately, which now means in Italian or Maltese territory.

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Macron's spokesman, Benjamin Grivaux said France doesn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach worldwide laws and rely on other EU member states.

Malta has refused to take in the Aquarius. Valencia is nearly three days' voyage for the Aquarius, while Italy and Malta are just hours away.

The mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena said the capital could take in "20 families up to a maximum of 100 people".

"Clearly, politely raising our voice - something that the Italian government had not done for a long time, for years - pays", Salvini said from the headquarters of his far-right League party.

Spain offered on Monday to take in a humanitarian ship stranded in worldwide waters with 629 migrants aboard, prompting Italy's new anti-establishment government to claim victory in its bid to get European partners to help more on immigration.

Malta's prime minister, who had resisted Italian pressure to take the migrants, thanked Spain's new government for defusing the crisis.

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European Union leaders in December had set an end-of-June deadline for an overhaul of rules to create a permanent mechanism to deal with migrants in the event of a new emergency.